When I was a mere lad-many years ago-I
was fascinated by famous voyages. Growing up on Tampa Bay, I saw
ocean-going ships come and go through the channel markers to Port
Tampa. I saw ships from strange parts of the world. I saw characters
with odd-sounding names from places far away walk off the ships,
disappearing into the little alleys and vacant shops of the port.
At night they disappeared behind doors and vague lamps.
In 1957 the fourth grade reading curriculum was called Adventures
in Reading. One of the chapters was a simplified Homer's Odyssey.
I couldn't put it down. All of those odd names and exotic, imaginary
places, storms, gods, ships, magic and finally reaching home.
Years later when I studied Homer in college I found out all those
imaginary places really did exist, although now with modern names.
The poet lived around 850BC, on the island of Ios, there pointed
on this map. Homer's style of writing is called the Ionian dialect.
In order to go anywhere, he had to sail off the island. No doubt
he was a good sailor and ship-traveler.
The Greeks conquered Troy in ten years, around 1250BC, with the
aid of the famous Trojan Horse, an idea Odysseus thought up. Now
it is time for the Greek to finally leave for their homeland.
They voyage home begins.
All the Greeks have left for home but Odysseus, who is cursed
by Zeus because he desecrated the Trojan temple when the Greeks
sacked the city.
Finally Odysseus leaves, taking the safer northern route to Maroneia.
Now silt and tides have filled in the land between the ancient
city and the shore, but then it was on the beach. The Ciconians
are friendly with the Trojans, so Odysseus has to fight them to
protect his ships. He has to leave now.
So he makes the fateful
decision which will cost him and his men 20 years of wandering
before reaching home. He decides to take the short route across
the sea straight to Ithaca, the ancient name for Greece. It would
have been shorter but for the gods, who hate Odysseus. Poseidon
sends a rare northerly wind to shove Odysseus' square sails on
past Ithaca, all the way past to North Africa.
|Homer calls it the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, but now we know
it as Djerba in Tunisia. Lotus-Eaters represented
idle pleasure. Odysseus knows he and his men cannot stay if they
ever want to get home. So he sails northwest as the arrow on the
map indicates. He comes to Cyclops, the original 'One eyed, one
horned, flying purple people eater.' This is actually near Mt.
Etna, now called Aci Reale, in Sicily.
And Odysseus' pride impels him to blind Polyphemus,
which angered Cyclops' father Poseidon. For many years Poseidon
won't let Odysseus come home.
Sicily probably isn't bad in the spring, but it's not home.
Odysseus then escapes to Aeolus, the manager of the winds. Good
choice if you want to get home in a square-sailed ship.
Ios The kingdom of Aeolus has been identified as Malta.
This is where Aeolus has the four winds in a wine sack, letting
only the west wind out to blow Odysseus's ship back home. However,
the crew opened the bag, let the winds out to blow the ship back
to Malta. This was not well-received by Aeolus.
||By the way, on the northwest corner of Malta
is St. Paul's Bay, where the apostle was
shipwrecked a thousand years later. And no doubt among the
shopkeeper's statues of Homer and Paul probably lurks a Maltese
Falcon, somewhere. At least I hope so. That little black bird
in the back under the poster of Bogart and Peter Lorre, I'll
So Aeolus has his revenge. He sends Odysseus back to Sicily,
only away from Cyclops, to the other side, to the Laestrygonians.
Any people with a name like that are to be avoided, but not our
man Odysseus. This place appears to be on the north shore of Sicily,
now called Mozia. Much shorter name than those
Laestry... whatever. The Mozians were huge men, destroying all
of Odysseus' ships except his own. Maybe the Greeks should have
thrown some matzo balls at the Mozians. Or maybe not.
Odysseus escapes to Italy, to the land of Circe. Today it is
called Monte Circeo. Sounds like an Italian movie
star to me, but whatever. Here there is allegory, somewhat similar
to New Testament themes. Circe has changed Odysseus' men into swine (keep
your gender jokes to yourself), so Odyssey descends into Hades
to rescue them. There he learns from the prophet Tiresias
when he will get home. Scholars have located the entrance
to Hades by Lake Averno, in Naples.
||Now with Circe, Odysseus has three episodes with female figures,
Circe, the Sirens, and Scylla and Charybdis. Leaving Circe, Odysseus
straps himself to the mast, stuffing the ears of his crew so they
can't hear the wail of the Sirens. This happened near the town
of Isoletti Galli. Sailing south, Odysseus guides
his ship past the twin rocks of Scylla and Charybdis, at the Straits
of Messina, between Italy and Sicily.
|Odysseus the great
sailor guides his ship through the mists at the rocks until a
tempest slams the ship. Odysseus and his few remaining shipmates
are cast upon the kingdom of Helios, today's Taormina.
There his chuckleheaded shipmates slaughter a sacred cow, which
made Zeus mad again. You just don't get loose with Zeus. He threw
another storm at Odysseus, sinking his only ship, drowning all
mates but himself. Now he is alone, adrift on the sea like Ishmael
in Moby Dick, far from home, with the gods as his enemy. The currents
cast him upon the island of Calypso. Homer calls the island, Ogygia,
the present day Gozo, an island just north of Malta.
Scylla and Charybdis
This is the worst. Calypso loves him, wants to keep him forever.
Odysseus loves his wife, he can't stand Calypso. It's sort of
a Married Without Children type of thing. Odysseus wastes away
in a cave, avoiding Calypso whenever he can. Meanwhile, on Mt.
Olympus, the gods convene like Protestants over a schism. They
feel sorry for Odysseus, persuading Zeus with favors- get it-from
Athena to let Odysseus leave the island. Odysseus was just one
toke over the line, sweet Jesus, if you know the song.
Now that he's passed the test with Circe,
Calypso, and the Straits of Messina, his fortunes will look up.
Odysseus will use his sailing skill to build a raft. He will sail
and drift with the wind and currents all the way to the west coast
of Greece, to the island Homer calls Scheria, the land of the
Phoenicians. Today it is known as Corfu.
Here Odysseus finally gets to tell his own tale, to King Alcinous
and his daughter Nausicaa. She is the first positive woman Odysseus
has met since leaving Ithaca. From Helen to Calypso, but now the
gods are with Odysseus.
The king provides Odysseus with a swift ship for the sail to
Ithaca, at last.
"Then Odysseus in his turn melted
and wept as he clasped his dear and faithful wife to his
bosom. As the sight of land is welcome to men who
are swimming toward the shore, when Poseidon has wrecked their ship with
the fury of his winds and waves; a few alone reach the land and these, covered
with brine, are thankful when they find themselves on
firm ground and out of danger-even so was her husband welcome
to her as she looked upon him, and she could not tear her two fair arms from about his neck."
Okay, so it's a bunch of Greek guys sailing around, they don't
BUT WAS IT ANY FUN? I DON'T THINK SO.
This is Texas, we need our own epic, our own homage to heroes, so scroll down
the page, if you dare...
for the Mighty Texas 200.
DUCK CONQUERS ALL
A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT
FULL OF SOUND AND FURY
Move over Homer,
with your catalogue of ships;
you're wiltin' Milton,
when the apple passes the lips;
that's all, St. Paul
of your missionary trips,
'cause here comes
the mighty Texas Two Hundred,
with all it's dread-
Now is the time when all men's souls,
those who think young and those old
rally to the Texas 200 sailboat race,
trying to keep their lives apace
of the seafaring history, mast and lace,
in the annals of triumph and disgrace.
The women cried when the sailors left
for the coast, entirely bereft
of that rational sense which the sages find
to be some comfort, like the blind
who feel the warmth of a fire
as if it were sufficient desire
for their lives.
Ah but the men tramped down
to their ships, solid and sound
with keels and prows,
the defiant bow against the seas,
the curves knees and layered planks,
the shanks and the waving girls on the lee.
The nation's hopes and dreams of immortality
ride on their shoulders down to the sea,
the crowds cheer and chant
while the sages rant
that such a voyage will end in loss,
cursed by the sea which will toss
the gallant Ducks like shooked sauce.
Ah but the seafaring men disregard
the tales of the ancient bearded bards,
for they are fearless,
anxious to caress
their destiny in the winds
that flings them reeling where it sends.
Here, then, is the mighty fleet,
the sound of bold tramping feet
boarding the ships of tree and rope,
designed with the fervent hope
of a safe return with such spoils
as a sailor's mind in wild roils
will imagine as the prize.
The Mighty Ducks clung to the port,
with all manner and various sort
of other craft
abeam and abaft,
long ships, sleek ships, prows
with goddesses carved at the bow,
ships with painted schemes of fame
and virtuous acts, none the same.
Oh you should hear such cheer
as the men spill their beer,
sailing for the sea
to encounter destiny-
would the fate of the home
rest with those who wrestle foam
to reach the final shore
and strive no more?
See the line of ships,
cheering on the lifted lips
of those who must stay behind
at hearth and home defined
by their devotion to the cause
which gave the patriotic heart the pause
that all might be lost.
And now, as the ships divide the waves,
the goddess Sandrodite saves
her song of love and care
for just those who dare
to sail from the Land of Stones,
toward the Cave of Eternal Cuts
risking the life alone.
See, there the heroes stand
at the mast with one strong hand
on the shrouds, leaning for
the longed-for shore,
the dream of immortality,
the fame which only poets see,
the divine vision which will be.
See there, the heroes command
the curved wood rudder by hand,
the strength of men
needed to handle the fend
of the sea's charging waves,
pounding the rudder's staves,
in the vain evil crave
Look, there on the wine-dark sea
there sails Bryan of ancient knees,
Jason of the Arguing Knots,
Gordon, who never says 'Not,'
from the Bolgerian shore to flee
before felon winds
blowing from time past
to time future while it lasts.
Down to the sea they go,
chanting a 'Heidi-Ho,'
sixteen men coming alive
hanging on when ships slide
alongside spewing seas
bulwarks creaking at the knees,
souls filling with the hopes
in the sail's slope.
Yet, Poseidon in his fury
blew swift winds to bury
any ship on such shifting sands,
the subterranean lands
just beneath the waves,
to reach out and crave
any wayward craft.
Poseidon's breath bent the masts
with such arrogant blasts
from his furious mouth,
blowing down to the south
as the ships skittered and swept
while danger crept..
awaiting the fleet.
Sails sewn by the maidens of home
tore out like pages from a tome,
scattering the ships apart,
whipping them from the start
of the Land of Stones
past the isle of Wailing Padres,
far from their beloved home.
Gordon's ship was shoved over,
tossed by that sea rover,
Poseidon, whose rage
was know by the sages
while he prayed to the goddess
Sandrodite for a rescue of the rest
of his blue splintered ship.
Yet the divinities were angered
So the angels from above,
by Poseidon's foul blowing words,
for they loved the heroes
against all the foes
who would cast curses and fumes
upon the sailors as the time
looms toward destiny.
those who toward heroes love
to see them sail in adventure,
came to the rescue sure
of Gordon’s craft, saving him
from the devouring monsters’ grin,
as they thought he was dinner.
Now, as the grand fleet
reaches the shore, so discreet
beneath a visiting moon
beyond clouds which swoon,
the men beach their ships upon
the sand where tiny waves fawn
like flower petals upon a royal lawn.
The men did not sleep this night,
for masts must be made for the flight
at dawn, rudders must be fastened
at sternposts to send
the ships along their course
tomorrow with the wind's force
at their backs.
But then the pelican circled
over the beach, watching the lulled
men sleep in their ships,
smacking its beaky lips
thinking the men were dead-
just for its own empty belly
like toast and marmalade jelly.
However, the angels sent to them
the rosy fingers of dawn's hem,
to protect the souls of the mighty
from the beaks of birds' flighty
hunger, the cawing and craving
sent to swallow fodder
for Davy Jones Locker.
Such was the blessing of these men
that the day sent them on when
the winds from above
came to their sails like young love
which comes to an old geezer
when he's not through wheezing
over what he has forgotten.
So on they went, barely holding
together in the days' unfolding
as the evil gods plotted
their undoing in the time allotted
to reach Lydia's narrow channels
where oyster reefs' razor handles
cut men to shreds.
On the men sailed toward
the Four Reefs beyond the shore,
where the four monstrous heads
hungered for ships, causing dread
among sailors who believe
these reefs will then relieve
them of their life-
the one eyed Carlos, the claws of Cedar,
the tentacles of Ayers which feed her
with the shivering flesh of men
who can only then
inhale the poison steam of the
fourth reef, though they cannot see
as it covers them with mist.
Jason's ship, Tenacious Turtle,
braved the reefs with a hurtle
casting it into the mists
while the other ships list
caught by the four reefs which split
the ships, tossing men who've been slit
with the sea's hidden razors.
But Wise Kowitz suffered for
his valor on the reefs, sorely
stranded there but for his sure
shrewd ingenuity to cure
his ship's predicament by standing
on the reef, edgy, to fling
his ship off
with the straining toss which
was strengthen by the holy twitch
of the Angel of the Thumbs
who comes to those who can't strike plumb
the nails he's driving with his hammer,
causing the cussing stammer
known as the Call of the Sea.
The Wise Kowitz didn't know
that the pelican didn’t show
he was the Angel of the Thumbs
and not really all that dumb.
as sailors take lazy pelicans to be
when they’re hungry at sea.
Wise Kowitz, hero that he is,
warned Gordon and David to miss
these evil reefs which claw the men
to their watery life's end,
but heroes never take the safe
course to their appointed fate-
they then came along in pride
to guide his ship back into the tide,
which unknown, though alongside,
guides men in their affairs
over the shallow lairs
along the way of a hero's life,
through the strain and strife
as he holds his course.
But other dangers lurked, of course,
when Poseidon sent his force
to sift Wise Kowitz and his ship
with shifting shoals that whipped
up beneath his keel pivoting
the ship, its planks riveted
by the hidden reef-
for what are reefs but the hidden
evil thoughts of desire unbidden
by the soul of a man
who only wishes to stand
at the side of his wife and family,
his beautiful homeland to see
peace and tranquility.
The mouth of Poseidon sucked
Wise Kowitz' leg all the way up
to the knee, grasping as evil does
to devour the soul against love,
while Kowitz grasped the ships bulwark
fighting the evil and its stark
and just as despair might have peeled
his hand from the bulwark,
him into the regions below,
Gordon and Jason then showed
that sailors cling together, always
coming to the rescue,
with their shipmate forever.
Gordon and Jason then showed
The men repaired their stout ships,
looking toward the sun for the tip
of some mysterious island where they
could find rest and food and stay
until the angels came to them
to strengthen souls and then send
the men toward the sun
and the end of all this fun.
They spied the Point of Panthers Island
looking for a beach to land,
hoping no weird people lay
waiting for them to make a stay
through the night when ghosts
and spectres haunt them as they boast
of sailors they have devoured
until the human flesh soured.
So our heroes were thrilled more
when two angels came with stores
of six foot onions and potatoes grand
and seared flank which no land
could have produced without the magic
touch of divine power, slick-
so delicious, like a dream.
As the rosy fingers of the dawn
then brought the day to spawn
the day's voyage, Wise Kowitz
left the island, using his wits
to sail into the wide unhurried
ocean, the white wavetops flurried
by a following wind.
So the angels sent a new
wind to guide in a true
direction Wise Kowitz and his
men, strapping sails taut,
spinning lines as they ought,
bringing the sails before this
Now as the sun left the ocean’s
scattering waves in restless motion,
Wise Kowitz spied the crest
of an island where he could rest,
appearing like a shield laying
down where he could stay
for the night, with a fire
to warm the heart and play the lire.
Here, with Jason and his men
they gathered round and when
the men knelt by a night's fire
telling tales of valor higher
than any poet of land
could imagine with gesturing hands,
they comforted each other
with the companionship of
Now even before the dawn,
Kowitz and Jason rose and saw
the evening's stars drop beyond
the sea, hoping with a fond
remembrance this proud voyage
would end soon, the final stage
of the drama of history.
They shoved their ships off the island,
amid the shipmates' clapping hands,
the joy of a new day
when, as they look up and pray
to the heavens blue and softly
white with clouds lofty,
every man seems to believe
they will have the reprieve
of coming home.
The sea as if in reply
became the blue of the sky,
gently laying waves before
the ships, anticipating the shore
where they would land at last,
now that the ships are fast
before the breeze.
The Wise Kowitz then pulled
the reefs from the sails, now full
of the following winds sailing,
the joy of men hailing
for their homeland with voices rising,
'There,' a mate shouts from
the top yard where he has clung,
peering at the jostling horizon
until he sees the country rising
on the edge of the ocean's shoreline,
the thrill of the final find
when a man sees his home.
All the men leaped for joy
when they heard the young boy
on the mast yell, 'There
it is, our home, the place where
we come at last, the beach
where magnolias reach
to the golden sun.'
And so all the men who
set out in great ships to do
the great deeds of divinity
now have come to finally see
their destiny approach in waves
that carry their hopes like a crave
When they landed with the cheers
they raised their voices and their beers,
dripping on their beards and arms
to celebrate braving the harms
of all that lay against their path,
the imagined wrath,
the infant fears
no longer ringing in their ears.
And so the angels lay before
them the meal worthy of lore,
the long white table of golden goblets,
the brown spears of squirming shrimp set
as large as turtles, the polished potatoes
curved like a fist of the king
who has slain all his foes,
the golden corn on a bronze sling,
and sausages, thick and fine,
dipped in the juicy wine.
Of the tales of seafaring men,
none can to the brave heart send
such as the Texas 200,
the story of defying dread
and sailing for a man's home
through the winds and dangerous foam
of this life of strife
For what is the sea but
the first water where it juts
to bring the angels down to the shore
watching men reach for more
than they ever could on the land,
where monotony is the
only hand to see.
And so our tale of men and ships
will have to live on your lips
as you tell the women waiting
of your deeds and acts creating
your soul, near and far
written down by the Boatyard Bard.
Anas Vincit Omneia
( See title)